“We know that there’s a consumer who cares,” said Paul Dillinger, speaking as part of a panel at this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The vice president and head of Global Product Innovation and Premium Collection Design at Levi Strauss & Co stressed the importance of acknowledging how consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues, and that they value information regarding the production of garments and the impact on the planet. And indeed, it was transparency and accountability that were the two overriding themes at the now annual sustainability event.
For husband and wife team Quang and Ellie Dinh, it was a desire to give conscious consumers more options and build a community of people who care about where their clothes come from that led to the creation of their Seattle-based start-up. When Ellie struggled to find high-quality active-wear that was also socially and environmentally responsible, the couple decided to launch their own line rather than compromise their values, and with Quang’s background in sustainable and organic denim they set up Girlfriend Collective. “Our values are to make clothes that have positive social and ecological impacts,” said Quang. “Treating workers fairly and paying fair wages, producing every product as sustainably as possible, and promoting garment manufacturers with the same values.”
Before launching the full line last summer, the duo started promoting their first product via a cleverly conceived social media campaign. Giving away their eco-friendly black leggings to anyone requesting a pair, and simply asking customers to cover the shipping and handling costs direct from their factory in Hanoi, the campaign went viral. Building on its success, their online shop now offers a range of athleisurewear, including bras, tees, tanks and shorts, and it’s on the brand’s website that the commitment to sustainability and transparency is abundantly clear.
In meticulous detail, the site not only explains how the company’s leggings and bras are made from recycled plastic, and its LITE leggings with ECONYL®, a fiber made from recycled fishing nets, but it sets out every aspect of the company’s clothing production process, from why Taiwan was chosen as the source for its post-consumer plastic bottles, to first hand accounts of how its recycling center, spinning mill, dye house and factory operate. It also explains the importance of the factory’s SA8000 certification, a social accountability standard and certificate developed by Social Accountability International that is subject to regular audit. This guarantees zero forced or child labor, the provision of living wages, and safe working conditions. Seen as a platform on which to build, Girlfriend Collective starts pay at 125% of the local minimum wage, provides free catered meals, free health check ups for every employee every six months, as well as free health insurance, and guided exercise breaks.
“Girlfriend Collective has always been about more than just clothes to me,” said Ellie Dinh, who last year was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30, and it seems clear that the company is committed to being a part of meaningful change in the fashion industry .